New life in Lisbon

New life in Lisbon

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It was just what the translation world needed; it was just what I needed. For most people, the BP event in Lisbon was a very welcome return to in-person conferences after two years of online-only events due to COVID.

It’s a conference that has a reputation of being a great place to meet friends but which is sometimes a bit light on content, and I was anxious to discover if this was deserved. Seeing friends and meeting new people was certainly a very welcome element of proceedings, though, and the various dinners, lunches and opportunities to chat were much appreciated. The conference was also superbly and efficiently organised by Csaba Ban and his team, as I’m told it always is.

In terms of content, I would say that to call BP merely a social conference is rather harsh. The quality of what I saw was certainly variable, with some presentations definitely better forgotten, but there were also highlights. Among the best were the magnificent Elina Nocera with her carefully chosen thoughts on microcopy, and the inspiring Diane Wiredu, on the links between copywriting and marketing translation. Both of them indicate the current trend for translators to migrate into copywriting which seems to be increasing by the week.

Then there was Dana Szabados’ superbly crafted and quirky presentation of stoicism, bringing philosophy into translation, or translation into philosophy, in all sorts of unexpected ways. Luna Jungblut also gave an interesting talk on the dos and don’ts of taking a stand at a trade fair, which was useful if only for demonstrating, without having to do the research yourself, that it would take an awful lot to recoup the rather high costs.

If I were to be critical, I would say that a few too many of the talks were aimed rather low, a couple of them with very little to say that all translators don’t learn in their first few weeks of freelancing. That’s not to say there should be no content for beginners but it should be clearly flagged as such. Organisers should perhaps also remember that the BP audience, or at least the audience I saw, is not actually composed of beginners – the vast majority being translators with considerable experiences. Even keynote speaker Renato Beninatto pitched his talk a little too much toward beginner level, I would have said. But this was nothing compared to his somewhat embarrassing performance in the rather unfortunate closing panel session.

It seems that Renato was initially intended to be a panellist for this session, but had stepped into the breach when Csaba Ban was unable to chair it as had originally been intended. Even so, a man of his experience should have known that the roles of panellist and moderator are very different. Instead, Renato monopolised the discussion, reducing the panellists, and particularly the women panellists, to peripheral roles. The audience, however, had the last laugh thanks to technology. As at many conferences these days, the Slido app was used for asking questions, with the most popular ones projected on to a screen behind the speakers. As the session wore on, it became apparent that someone was asking mischievous questions. “Why,” said one “is the moderator speaking all the time and not letting the panellists talk?” As the question was upvoted it moved up the screen until it was tying with one from Chris Durban, who was watching the proceedings on streaming. When an upvote was removed from Chris’s question, the other one rose to the top of the chart and Renato could not fail to see it. His face as he read it was a picture, although it has to be said that even such frank instant feedback failed to improve the quality of that particular discussion.

One of the concerns of the BP organisers in choosing Lisbon to host the conference was, apparently, that COVID restrictions should be minimal. In Lisbon facemasks only had to be worn on public transport, not at the conference venue or anywhere else indoors. In the light of the fact that several conference-goers went home having caught COVID, I have read criticism of the organisers for not having insisted on masks. Personally, I believe they were absolutely right not to. This is no longer 2020. Conference-goers are vaccinated and for the vast majority COVID is simply a cold. Everyone is heartily sick of facemasks and the idea of forcing people to wear them to avoid a sore throat and a sniffle seems frankly ridiculous. I’m sure some will disagree with my assessment, but I’m definitely backing Csaba on this issue.

Overall BP22 can be considered a huge success. Partly because of some fine organisation and good presentations, but mostly because in-person translation events are simply far more enjoyable than they are online. So all credit to the organisers for having persisted with putting it on through times when it might have seemed unlikely to go ahead. And good luck to them with BP23 in Utrecht!




  1. Mario Chávez

    I had to miss the opportunity to attend the BP conference in Lisbon in person, so I thank you very much for this review.

    I see some parallels with past ATA (American Translators Association) conferences; being a newcomer in the mid 1990s, several old-timers would go to conferences for the social aspect and pooh-poohed the quality of some of the sessions, especially because of the beginner’s content.

    I’m saddened to hear that several attendees went home having caught covid-19. Unfortunately, I have to disagree with you on the characterization of covid-19 as a case of the sniffles or a sore throat as if covid-19 were just a particular type of cold. It is not. And breakthrough covid-19 infections may be termed mild but the symptoms can be severe even for fully vaccinated individuals. So, it’s not simply a cold.

    I found it of note your mentioning of copywriting, a field several translators are migrating to. Let’s hope there’s more discussion and conversation around copywriting as an option for translators now and in the future, and that the clunky “transcreation“ gets the retirement it deserves.

    Again, thank you for sharing your review.

    • Simon Berrill

      Thanks, Mario, for your interesting comments. I’m certainly not going to get into an argument with you over COVID. I knew some people would disagree with me and we’ll have to agree to have different opinions.

  2. Jerzy Czopik

    Well, as I already stated in Lisbon, there are no unfruitful talks. Even if you think to know more than enough about a topic presented, you will always gain a new perspective. As humans we can only see the world through our two eyes and hear it via our ears. Listening to someone else talking about something well known gives you a different color of perception. This is always worth to consider.
    Also being a speaker on conferences and doing monthly webinars for BDÜ I know how hard it is to find the proper level. You should also consider very experienced people not to be so willing to attend such big conferences like BP is. If you go too experienced, you’ll get just few people understanding the topic, while the rest will be bored in the best case…

    • Simon Berrill

      Thanks, Jerzy. I wonder, though, whether the BP audience may have changed. I didn’t see many beginners there and I did see a lot of very experienced people. This may not have been the case when BP started out. And I see what you’re saying about unfruitful talks, but, take it from me, there was one in particular that said nothing, and I mean nothing, that anyone who’s been a translator for a few months wouldn’t know. I’m not saying which one it was simply out of kindness to the speaker.

  3. Timothy Barton

    My thoughts on masks was that they should have at least been worn when getting food from the buffet, and the hand sanitizer should have been placed at the start and the end of the buffet for other to use before and after getting food. It was all a bit of a culture shock for me, having come from a part of the world where masks and hand sanitization in public places are the norm.

    I agree on your comments about the content. I haven’t seen Dana’s talk, but have heard great things about it and will watch it online.

    The other highlight for me was Sarah Silva’s talk on newsletters.

    • Simon Berrill

      Thanks, Tim. I didn’t see Sarah’s talk, so I’ll have to go and have a look for that one. As for COVID, I’m not going to get into any discussion on that. We all have our opinions based on our experiences, sensitivities and what we’re used to. People were perfectly free to wear masks if they wanted to, and you may have a point about the hand sanitiser.


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